Refugees Face Unique Challenges as College Students

PHOTO: Musadiq Bidar, 18 and a native of Afghanistan, is a freshman journalism major at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. He dresses in jeans and collared shirts; he loves sports and currently holds two jobs: one as a scorekeeper for an in
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They come from wartorn countries like Afghanistan, or poor, politically unstable nations in West Africa, or places where expressing your views can land you in jail. They find new life in America, and for the young, a college education that may not have been available in their homeland becomes a possibility.

But for refugee college students, the transition can be a tricky one that few native-born U.S. college students can relate to.

After trying to learn the English language and make new friends, breaking through stereotypes that plague their nationalities can present a challenge.

Musadiq Bidar, 18 and a native of Afghanistan, is a freshman journalism major at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. He loves sports and currently holds two jobs: one as a scorekeeper for an intramural basketball team, the other working at a drycleaning and laundry service on GW's campus.

His journey to the U.S. began when he was 4 years old and his father, a broadcast journalist for the Afghan National Radio Station, was being threatened by the Taliban.

The Taliban bombed the house, killing his grandfather and injuring his father. The family fled to a refugee camp in Pakistan. There they were given a bag of rice, a bag of flour, oil and an electric tent to live in.

"When you arrive to the camp, you are responsible for whatever money or possessions you bring in," Bidar told ABCNews.com. "You are also responsible to look for jobs and places to live once you're in the camp."

In 2003, the United Nations granted Bidar and his family refugee status, and they were relocated to Arizona; they stayed there until they moved to San Francisco, where a family friend from Afghanistan had been relocated.

"When I came to America, I didn't know any English. So having to go to school, and experience desks, textbooks and computers was overwhelming to me," Bidar said. In middle school Bidar not only caught up but surpassed his American classmates. And in high school he excelled at basketball.

Cultural Differences

Nevertheless, he told ABCNews.com, "I have had to deal with racism since being in America."

"I've been called names and had people say certain disrespectful things about my culture. I've had people tell me that they thought I would be driving a taxi, or married with a child by now [instead of being in college]. But I feel as if their negative comments push me to work hard and break those stereotypes that are holding my people back."

Nawa Arsala, president of the Afghan Students Association at G.W. (Bidar is a member), believes that there are many differences between American students and foreign students, but the cultural differences are the ones that stick out the most. For example, Afghan students do not generally drink and go to parties, which she claims "is one of the things our American friends don't understand."

Though Bidar might look like the average student, he does not act that way. He looks you in the eye as he speaks, and his eyes suggest a responsibility and wisdom beyond his years. He is alert and speaks carefully, not as if he is choosing his words but as if he knows what he is talking about and exactly how he wants to say it.

Optimism About America, And a Desire to Return Home

Last year approximately 73,000, refugees made their way to America to seek asylum.

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